The air in the private room to the court was just as cold as the court itself, even with the open window that gave it light. The warm summer air did nothing to warm the hulking mass of marble and other stone that made up most of the building. The light through the window illuminated twin frescoes of Saint Gelon and Saint Paiman, here both at their executions. Saint Gelon was bound to the stone by heavy chains, with her jaw split cleanly off. Her body was excruciatingly thin; where there were gaps in her robes, Edam could see that her belly was swollen with starvation. Saint Paiman was also in a position of martyrdom; her breasts had been sliced off to reveal her ribs and she had been gagged. Around her, wild dogs nipped at her feet and ate her severed breasts.
Edam felt a twinge in her own breast in sympathy. Paiman was the only saint whom she had a scar in common with. She knew Imera had more than her – he had more opportunity for those voluntary, good scars that were sign of his virtue. His willingness to suffer for the sake of self-improvement and the improvement of the Church.
Edam sat on the bench opposite to Odh. He sat and immediately gave her a consternated expression.
“That was… worse than expected. Better than it could have been – that Varna was a real saving grace here – but still, worse than expected.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that even if you give a very good apology and statement of regret, it may be difficult to convince the judge here.”
“I see,” said Edam.
“And you aren’t getting off free if you avoid the death sentence, either. I will advocate from a point of leniency, obviously. You have a good record of service?”
Edam thought for a moment.
“I may be one of the first Inquisitors to kill a blueblood in nearly three decades or so within the borders of Koletya. Does that count for anything?”
“You’re joking with me, right?”
“No,” said Edam, “Ask Danza, Imera, or Varna. They saw it happen.”
“Yeah, that’d count for a lot,” he said quietly, “But there’s other options than just pleading for your good character and record.”
“Well, it might have been that you didn’t put your whole relationship with Ana in the diaries, no?”
“Of course,” said Edam meekly, “What of it?”
He leaned back in the wooden bench.
“I’m not suggesting you lie. If this didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. But there are rarely cases where an Inquisitors sexual impropriety goes beyoned even the regular temptation – into perversities, even against priests or other Inquisitors, and abuse that position of power. It’s very rare, but it does happen, and in those cases, the maximum leniency is given to the victims in any crime related to that perversity.”
“I know, based on those documents, that Ana was more physically capable than you. She probably knew that you had some pre-existing attraction to her. So I must ask you to consider whether or not she ever, at any point, took advantage of those facts. Whether or not she at any point, suggested, made innuendo to or outright said that there would be negative consequences to not entering into a relation with her. Whether or not she ever, at any point, coerced a relation or writing from you to suggest relation’s existence, to create further material for blackmail or other similar failures in her duty which would have caused you to write those things in the diary.”
He stared her in the eye, carefully examining her.
“And if any of those things were true at any time, I suggest that you testify so before the judge, as you will receive better leniency for it.”
“You’re suggesting I testify that Ana raped me,” said Edam.
“I wouldn’t put it so crudely,” said Odh, “But if that’s what happened, that is what happened. The court would be understanding of you not bringing that sort of sensitive information forward at an earlier time.”
Edam looked down. No such thing happened. Had Ana tempted her? Certainly. Was that temptation conscious? That was more difficult to parse for her. There were times where she felt almost certain that Ana was teasing her on purpose. The subtle way she’d roll up her sleeves when they worked in the shop together, or the way she’d be careful whenever touching Edam – that felt at least a little intentional. But was it a violation? No. She welcomed it then. There was no coercion in it.
It could save her life, though.
She coughed before speaking again.
“And what would this look like, if I did not receive a death sentence? What would happen?”
“Well, that’s mostly up to the judge, but there are guidelines based on your testimony. If you present straightforward regret and repentance, you’d be taken off active duty for a while, relegated to a more secondary role pending good behavior and good record. A counselor, usually the nearest and most available member of the Order of Tattered Skin, would be assigned to you. The fact that you’re an exemplar in the field is also a helpful thing here, it’d count in your favor. If you were to invoke the possibility of coercion, you’d be treated similarly, but it’d be more focused on counseling and seeking proper remission for the crimes committed against you. Again, you’d have a member of the Order of Tattered Skin assigned to you for that counseling.”
Then, something dawned on Edam. It was all at once, and yet slow in the manner that it revealed itself. The plan was there – perhaps even from the beginning. She turned it over in her head, before asking a simple question to Odh.
“And who would the counselor be in this case?”
“Your cousin Imera,” said Odh very plainly, “Unless he takes some issue with it. He does seem to have your best interests in mind, even when he’s prosecuting you. It’s almost admirable, in a way.”
“I see. And either way I end up in counseling?”
“Yes,” said Odh, “I think it would be solidly in your interest, in the interest of the Inquisition and the interest of the court to do so. With that cleared up, here’s the plan. You’re going to take the stand. I’m going to ask you about your relation to the Ana, then your record, and I’m going to ask you to make some conclusive statements regarding the matter of the crimes described in the trial, at which point I will make my argument to the judge for clemency. Any questions?”
“No,” said Edam, looking up at the statues of the saints.
Protect me, she thought, Now more than ever I need you to let me tell the truth.
She stood with Odh, and walked out of the private room and back into the court. She rubbed herself for warmth as she did, nervously playing with her hair as she walked up to the defendant’s desk and took a seat. Danza and Imera were quietly confiding in each other, whispers being shared between them before Judge Tyeli spoke again.
“Order, please. I now resume the due process of court and give the defense the floor. If you will, Odh.”
“Thank you,” said Odh, “I call Edamosfa to the stand.”
Edam shuffled up to the chair, and sat. She prepared herself, mentally. She already knew what she needed to say.
“What I’d like to do now is ask Edamosfa several things to clarify matters in this proceeding, and what she truly thinks of Ana Metremte as of the present,” said Odh, “Would you please tell us more about your relation to Ana?”
Edam cleared her throat. There was no going back from this, one way or another.
“Thank you, Odh, for your question. I wish to make a statement – a speech of sorts – to the court. If you would please, I ask that you not interrupt me with further questions until I am finished. I will say that I have been advised that if I were to testify that Ana violated me and coerced me to write a false diary entry I would only receive a smaller reprimand. I will yet give an answer to that matter, but first I wish to give proper context about my diary and my cousin I-Merach-Lluar. He has used Danza here as a puppet for his purpose. he has discredited me in the eyes of the court, he has levied my own writings in my diary and even my native tongue against me, in an effort that has perfectly led to me needing to testify to this effect. What he has not done is let me speak on my side of this story.”
She exhaled heavily.
“It began when I was born,” she said.
“Objection,” said Danza, standing so suddenly that her chair skidded on the marble floor, “Your honor, there’s no need for all of this. Edamosfa has been asked to testify on a particular subject and all the court needs is that testimony, nothing else.”
“Overruled,” said Judge Tyeli, “Do be as brief as you can, Edamosfa.”
Danza sat again, defeated.
“Thank you, your honor. As I was saying, it began then. I am a bastardess. My mother did have an affair with a man I will never know, and did so whilst already married. She and my father raised me until I was eight or thereabouts. Really, it was mostly my mother. My father resented me for being born; for making his marriage worse; he resented me for not having his brown eyes, or his strong features. So, with that in mind, he sent me to live with my uncle – his brother, Rameve Miaza. If you are unfamiliar with Agoran, that would be best translated as Peaceful Miaza. My name is Edamosfa-Iforfit Miaza; I-Rebuke-Evil Miaza. He had his wife – I only knew her as Aunt Lama, which has no particular translation. I also had four cousins to keep me company: Mitra Miaza, An-Iuna-Surach Miaza, Versam Miaza and of course the one who sits before you today, I-Merach-Lluar Miaza – The-Hammer-of-Virtue Miaza. Now, he has related my virtues and vices through Danza and my diary. Let me now relate to you on his own.”
She finally managed to stare him in the eye. He was silent. Stony-faced.
“We were Machevins, all of us, and of that I am proud. I wear the marks of the Saints on my skin, and the marks of my guilt, and I am not afraid to admit that. What I am certain of is that my uncle and my cousin abused their power over me.”
She quickened her pace.
“It started when I was twelve, when I had my menarche. My uncle sat me down and told me that I was a grown woman now, not a girl anymore, and that I needed to start taking responsibility for my actions. He told me that I had to join the Machevins if I wished to truly be a part of the family, of my community, and I gladly accepted the first marks on my belly and my breasts.”
She slowed herself again. She realized that she couldn’t rush. Rushing would make the message more difficult for the judge to listen to. It would make her seem less credible, less capable in her statement. She pushed the strain of her words into her clenched fist instead.
“I was a hellion, yes. I did, on occasion, act out. That is true, and again, I am not afraid to admit that. I have repented thoroughly for my crimes. What concerns me is that my cousin would take it upon himself to punish me when I did not do it myself. It started small. I refused a punishment for stealing an extra piece of bread from Imera at dinner. Amongst the Machevins, such a thing would be worth only a prick on the finger, or the belly perhaps. A drop of blood. He chose to make a cut the length of his finger on my back.”
She remembered it. How he had drawn it slow. He said that he was doing her a favor. That it would hurt less that way. He still sat opposite to her, unflinching.
“And then, when I was thirteen, the accusations started. He would provoke me. Put things out of order in my room. Make it seem as if I had stolen things when he had done it himself, or simply accused me of stealing things, and since he was the eldest and most trusted, I was always in the wrong. Soon, he was doing it once, twice a month, or sometimes ever other month. Sometimes more. I suppose that was his way of keeping me on my toes. And I suppose I must have stolen some of those things – how could I not have? I was the daughter of an adulterer, raised by an adulterer, and it was only in my nature to be greedy and duplicitous. I remember once he beat me so savagely with a rod that I could barely walk for a week. On another occasion, after accusing me of stealing one of our guest’s jewelry, he scolded me with a whip. Twenty times. I was fourteen.”
Edam remembered that incident well. It was distinct in the haze of violence and fear that dominated those few long years of her life. The beating had been so severe that even her uncle had felt that Imera had gone too far, and had him punished as well. That didn’t do anything for the fact that she developed a small infection and had to stay in bed for two weeks.
She swallowed hard to hold back her tears. She couldn’t cry. Not now. To cry now would make her seem hysterical and mad in the eyes of the court, in the eyes of the Saints, in the eyes of Imera. Even still she could not help her voice from shaking. Imera’s lips twitched, and she clung to it – held onto the tiny gesture like it was her last grip on a cliff. Was it remorse? Guilt?
“And what strikes me – what so greatly makes me concerned – is how he went about this. Every time, he would make me strip half-naked, or fully naked-”
“Your honor,” said Imera, interrupting, “This is absurd. Whatever punishment she’s referring to was-”
“You shut your mouth, metuon!” Snapped Edam, “I am giving testimony as has been requested of me. Do not speak over me.”
The court was dead silent. Everyone stared at her. Her hand shook in her lap, clenched into a tight fist.
“He would make me strip and he would insist, every time, that he was doing this because he loved me. Even when it was not necessary to do so for the punishment. He would leer over me and stare at me and would scar me as he saw fit all for the sake of my virtues – always my virtues. He would speak at length about how it would protect me from the evils of the world by doing these awful things. I did not think I was being mistreated. I thought I deserved it. By the end, I didn’t even protest the accusations. I would sometimes refuse to give myself the punishment, because that was what was afforded to me as a protest, but I would not take the accusations out of the question. I knew there was no point in it.”
Even now she doubted how many were false and how many were truthful accusations of her crimes. It seemed difficult to keep track of in her mind; whenever she grasped onto an incident, there was some element of doubt in her. Her mind ran in circles over the tiny pieces of evidence, the scant solid memories in the haze of those years. It felt impossible to tell the truth from the lies.
“But now it all seems much more clear that he had some kind of motive for all this; some kind of reason I could not divine. I still cannot say why he did all of these things.”
She could not say; she knew. He simply liked having her under his thumb, or his blade, or his whip. Whatever control he had of her he gladly transferred to other people around him when she was not around She could feel the judge examining her off to her side. She couldn’t tell if he thought he was telling the truth or not. The cold command of his eyes had a hold on her soul, her spirit, her body, but she kept her focus on Imera. He seemed cowed into silence now, threatened by her sudden swearing.
Danza was not looking at her. Her gaze was on Imera as well. Waiting, Edam supposed, for a tell or a sign or a further protest to her accusations.
“And then he left to become an Inquisitor. I was sixteen. I thought it was over. I suppose it was, for me. I started keeping a diary as a way of having some freedom after what amounted to four years of this treatment. I suppose it mostly took. I never yelled or spoke out of turn or stole again. And as has been proven by his conduct in this case, even that small privacy that I afforded myself was too much for him.”
She shuddered, remembering what she had wrote there.
“I suppose I must also discuss my affair with that priest. I knew he mostly pitied me more than he loved me; that he perhaps more enjoyed laying with me than anything else there was about me. But I was late into my sixteenth year, and I had some romantic notions about him. Nothing less, nothing more. It was a dalliance that I soon forgot. To bring it up as evidence against me is absurd and exactly the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from my cousin.”
She sighed. Now came the time to reveal her failings.
“But when I saw him next, he had in his company a thaumaturge named Verat. He treated her as a slave, and tortured her much like he did I – in a clear, total violation of the peace between synodoxies. But I did not report this, and I am sad that I did not report this. It was cowardly of me to not do so. Instead, I advised the thaumaturge that she simply come to me, and I would absorb the brunt of his piety, of his better nature, of his quickness to smite wrong-doing.”
The whole court was quiet now. Even the gentle breeze in the courtroom seemed to have gone silent in response to her speech. Varna hid her eyes, looking at the statues of the saints. Edam continued.
“Now, he will gladly discredit this claim. I know this because he is excellent at doing so and has been since he was fourteen. I can tell that he is already formulating reasons why he was within his rights to treat Izla like an animal. He would have his second, Danza, back his counter-argument as well. And I could lengthen this whole proceeding greatly. I could call Tarnye to the stand – she could testify that she saw the condition Verat was in when we met. If Ana was here, she would testify as much as well. I could call the head of the Antipode at Dzhemor and on and on, but again, my dearest cousin would gladly drag any of them through the mud as he has done with me and would ruin their careers. So I will not do so.”
She exhaled, and let herself catch her breath again. It was time to end this.
“And now, I must come again to the matter of Ana Metremte. I knew her for over half a year, and it is true that in that time I became quite fond of her. As my diary said, I felt lust for her. I would even say that I had romantic inclinations for her. I did not reveal them for a long time – a moment of weakness, I suppose. Regarding whether I slept with her, I did no such thing. I kissed her. I did have an emotional affair with her, I did once have her lay in my bed and hold me as a slept, but I did not have sex with her. She once made an approach to such a thing. Tried to undo the string on my dress. I did not-”
Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat, and covered her face briefly.
“I would have laid with her, if it were not for the fact that I felt ashamed of the scars that my cousin gave me. You see, Ana Metremte was a good woman. A virtuous, honest and supremely kind woman. An excellent Inquisitor, and an excellent friend. I cannot say why she chose to make a deal with a devil; why she abandoned the Church. The idea of her seeing my guilt was too much to bear, even if it was misplaced guilt.
My cousin has made quite a good job of this prosecution. He has made it so that the best way to save my life – to make sure that I am not executed – is to testify that Ana raped me and made me write false diary entries so that we would both go down together. I do not think this is an accident. I think that he would rather that I have been raped, because then I would not have had happiness and love from someone besides my family. Then, I would still be loyal to him, in his sense of loyalty. Again, why he needs this fealty I cannot say. Ana Metremte did not violate me.”
She breathed out again. Anje looked towards the window. He wouldn’t meet her gaze, even as she stared at him.
“I rescind my previous plea, and instead plead guilty to a breach of my oath in the second and third degree. Ana Metremte was kinder to me than any other member of the Church. I do not regret lusting after her or loving her in any degree. I revoke my right to your clemency. I revoke my right to your mercy. I revoke my right to appeal. I revoke my right to any repentance but the ultimate one, in blood and in body. My sentence is death. That is my final statement on the matter.”
Odh sat stunned at the table. He quietly pulled at his collar, seemingly unable to think of something to say. Danza sat back in her chair, looking over the court for something to anchor herself to. Varna had slumped forward into a curled position that brought her eyes to the floor. Imera cocked his head and spoke softly in Agoran.
“Cousin,” he said, “You’re not well. I can still counsel you out of this.”
Anger sparked in Edam’s chest as she replied. Her nostrils flared.
“Counsel?” she replied in Agoran, “Counsel me? Your good counseling and piety and good-natured scolding has gotten me into this in the first place. I would not have been so miserable as to have had either of my affairs without you. I would not have been so pitiable as to do so. You made me. Counsel me, again? If the court does not see me dead and puts me under your counsel, I will take my pistol and shoot myself in front of you. That’s what you want, isn’t it, you son of a-”
Judge Tyeli slammed his gavel over her words, and she stopped. The anger left her chest through her breath. She had started to sweat and not even noticed it. Her nails had dug deep into her palm until they hurt and left little red marks.
“Your statement has been heard,” said the judge, “And you have said this in full sanctity of mind and health. I agree with your sentence.”
Edam felt very odd, all of a sudden, as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her back. She looked up at the judge; his quizzical, scarred, sorry face. In the moment, it was impossible to tell, but there was something in there that suggested that he knew it as well – that the performance had its effect. He knew as well as her that something had to be done about Imera. An impossible giddiness and calm overcame her, and a smile she could barely feel came over her numbed lips.
All it cost was her life.
“I win,” she whispered, so low that only she could hear, “I win.”
One thought on “And The Dogs Came Running 5.6”
WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!
DID I REALLY…? DID IT REALLY JUST READ THAT WITH MINE OWN TWO EYES?!